In the fall of 1962, a novelty song titled "The Lone Teen Ranger" credited to Jerry Landis reached Number 97 on the Billboard Hot 100 and then disappeared without a trace. It would be just about one of the most forgettable tunes to ever appear on the pop charts had its creator not reverted back to his birth name of Paul Simon and started penning some of the greatest songs of the 20th Century just a few years later. The early ones were cut with his childhood buddy Art Garfunkel, but in 1972 Paul Simon began a solo career that continues to this day. In honor of his upcoming 75th birthday and new album Stranger to Stranger, we asked our readers to pick the best songs from his solo career. Click through to see the results. Sadly, "The Lone Teen Ranger" didn't get any votes.
The third single from Paul Simon's 1972 self-titled LP didn't get nearly the radio play of "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard" or "Mother and Child Reunion" and didn't get into the Top 50, but its aged remarkably well. "Duncan" is a spiritual sequel to Simon and Garfunkel's "The Boxer." Both songs are about a poor boy that goes on a journey far from home, encounters exotic women and finds a sort of home after a lonely struggle. We know a little more about Duncan than the unnamed "poor boy" of "The Boxer." He's the son of a Canadian fisherman that heads to New England and loses his virginity to a street preacher. It's one of the few non-hits from his back catalog he regularly plays in concert these days.
A lot of men fantasized about Carrie Fisher when she was Slave Leia in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, but the guy that got to spend the night with her at the time was Paul Simon. They began a tumultuous relationship right around the time the original Star Wars came out, got married in 1983 and divorced the following year. He penned the title track to 1983's Hearts and Bones during their brief marriage, recounting a trip taken by the "one-and-one-half wandering Jews." It's one of the most personal songs he ever wrote, and it's easy to understand why he changed his mind about making this a Simon and Garfunkel reunion album.
Following up Graceland was likely an intimidating task for Paul Simon, but he was wise to not make another album of South African music. Instead, he headed down to South America and teamed up with Afro-Brazilian musicians. It meant a lot fewer political headaches, and a lot of the hypnotic drum beats that power songs like "The Obvious Child." It's the first track on The Rhythm of the Saints, and it also kicked off his 1991 Concert in the Park. The single went no higher than Number 92, but it became a cult favorite and, in 2014, comedian Jenny Slate named her breakthrough movie after it. It gave the tune a whole new audience.
Paul Simon got his first Number One single in 1975 when he penned this goofy song following the breakdown of his marriage to Peggy Harper. It's written from the perspective of a mistress telling her lover how to break it off with his wife. "Hop on the bus, Gus," he sings. "You don't need to discuss much/Just drop off the key, Lee/And get yourself free." The rhyme pattern comes from a goofy game he was playing with his infant son Harper, not quite realizing he was laying the groundwork for the biggest pop hit of his entire career.
From the moment that "The Sound of Silence" hit big in 1965, Paul Simon faced nothing but incredible success for 15 years. Then he decided to write a movie and star in it. 1980's One Trick Pony features Simon as a washed-up folk rocker trying to orchestrate a comeback. It was such a fiasco that he reunited with Garfunkel for a two-year reunion tour the following year just to regain the love of the public. The One Trick Pony soundtrack also failed to find an audience, but the single "Late in the Evening" has become a classic that Simon rarely gets offstage without playing. It's a funky look back at his early years when he discovered music and met his first love. Few people remember the movie or the soundtrack, but they know this song.
After One Trick Pony bombed, the Simon and Garfunkel reunion fizzled and 1983's Hearts and Bones stiffed, Paul Simon was dangerously close to being a relic. People heard reports he went down to South Africa to work with local musicians, but nobody saw the results until the May 10th, 1986 episode of Saturday Night Live in which he performed "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" with Ladysmith Black Mambazo. It was unlike anything most Americans had ever heard, and the album became one of the surprise hits of the year, and one of the most controversial because some felt that he violated the cultural boycott of apartheid-era South Africa.
The title track to Paul Simon's 1975 LP was a moderate hit that just barely scraped the Top 40, but it gave him a perfect song to sing on Saturday Night Live. He's a close friend of show creator Lorne Michaels and has been on more times than some actual cast members, even meeting his wife Edie Brickell on the show's set. He sang "Still Crazy After All These Years" in a turkey outfit for the show's Thanksgiving episode in 1976, and then did it again for the show's 40th anniversary special in 2015. This time, he left the turkey suit at home.
Back in the 1970s, Paul Simon was at a party with his wife Peggy when French composer Pierre Boulez walked up to him and said, "Sorry, I have to leave, Al, and give my best to Betty." For years after that, Peggy and Harper called each other "Al" and "Betty" as a little inside joke. About a decade after Al and Betty divorced, the incident was ringing around his head when he penned the lyrics for the Graceland track "You Can Call Me Al." He shot a goofy video for it with Chevy Chase that VH1 played roughly 10,000 times that year, causing it to race up the charts. It remains one of Simon's signature songs – even if the lyrics come off like complete nonsense to most people.
The word "Graceland" was originally just a placeholder in Paul Simon's head until he could come up with a better word for his in-progress song. He was still reeling from the collapse of his marriage to Carrie Fisher and trying to make sense of it via music, but somehow or another the word "Graceland" wouldn't budge. "I couldn't replace it," he said. "I thought, 'Maybe I'm supposed to go to Graceland. Maybe I'm supposed to go on a trip and see what I'm writing about,' and I did." Reports vary about whether or not he took his young son Harper on the journey (as is stated in the lyrics) or even if the journey took place at all, but no matter what the truth is, he turned Elvis Presley's home into a symbol of hope and clarity.
Paul Simon has written a lot of great first lines to his songs, but nothing compares to "When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school it's a wonder I can think at all" from 1973's "Kodachrome." It's a song about looking back at the past with more than a hint of bitterness, and realizing that pictures don't quite capture the reality of days gone by. It was the first single from There Goes Rhymin' Simon and it shot to Number Two on the charts, firmly cementing him as a superstar even without that other guy by his side. It was a regular part of his setlist for many years, though he hasn't touched it since 2012.